How to Learn Marketing Online

Marketing Basics for Beginners:  How do I Learn Basic Competencies in Digital Marketing in 2020?

If you want to improve your skills, you will want to figure out how to prioritize and select which course you want to take. Do you actually need a certificate or is it just fluff and something to brag about, or will it do some good in your career or establishing your professional credibility?

Below are some of my favorite resources to learn about online marketing and related topics – some with certifications, some without, but most of these are free or have a free option.


Websites & Programming

If you need to learn about website building, design, development, coding, or programming languages, the most useful and easy-to-understand site is

Here you can learn the very basics from the beginning with their exercises, take some quizzes, and even work toward a certificate ($95 fee for certification as of this writing).

  • HTML                          
  • CSS                               
  • JavaScript                   
  • Bootstrap                   
  • jQuery   
  • SQL   
  • Python  
  • PHP
  • XML                 

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) & Search Engine Optimization

Everything related to optimizing your website, learning about your competitor’s presence, and more can be found through SEMRush’s Academy.

Of course, their overarching goal is for you to purchase their tool so these free lessons are geared toward that, but SEMRush is a widely used, well respected, multi-purpose tool that is good to know. If you cross over to another tool, much of what you learn with this tool will be transferable. When you’re done with the self-guided course and certificate, you can read their blogs and ebooks, watch their webinars, and listen to their podcasts.

Digital Marketing Products

Let’s face it, the web IS Google. Google IS the web. If you want to have any presence online, Google is the first place to be.

You’ll need to learn as much as possible about Google’s products. Previously, they called themselves Google Institute, but they now call their online learning portal “Skillshop,” and it’s still free. Some key modules you’ll want to learn include:

Content Marketing, Personas, & CRM

Learning about Content Marketing, how to build your customer personas and track them in a Customer Relationship Management platform (CRM) is the core competency of Hubspot, and they share a wealth of information for free.

While they have many competitors with similar offerings and educational modules, the Hubspot Academy is the proof in the pudding. They know you are in the early stages of the funnel, and they want to be front and center when you’re ready to use a CRM platform. Their credibility in the marketplace adds to their certification as well because the skill sets you learn are transferable to other CRM platforms.

Social Media

So many social media platforms are available. The key is to choose a few based on where your customers are and then learn the competencies of that platform.

While I’m not a fan of Facebook anymore, this behemoth is probably going to be a significant player for years to come, so it would be good to understand how to use it to its capacity. They have Facebook Blueprint to teach you the tips and tricks of their platform.

Hootsuite is a great tool to use to organize your content calendar and have it automatically put out on social media platforms according to your schedule. It can also alert you when someone mentions your company.

Hootsuite has created their Hootsuite Academy to teach social media marketers the best practices to master these ever changing skills.

While I have not used this resource previously, I’ve been reading about Alison training courses from some top bloggers.

Shortly, I’ll be uploading some additional free resources that don’t offer certifications. Stay tuned!

Online Marketing Basics

Marketing Basics for Beginners: Types of Online Marketing

Some marketing professionals will add or reclassify these categories, but for simplicity, I’ve broken online marketing down into 8 basic areas of study:

  • Social Media Marketing – this field encompasses all activities on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat, LinkedIn, and other new platforms. YouTube can fit in here depending on what you do with it, but it can also fit under Content Marketing. Having a regular content calendar with a publishing schedule and using account management auto-publishing tools such as Hootsuite or Buffer will make life much simpler.
  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) & Local Search – this field focuses on organic results, that is, results that come up naturally on Google and other search engines when someone types in a query. These are unpaid ads that are found on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP). If you have a local business, you must learn about how to optimize for local search. That means you want to be on Google Maps, have a Google My Business Page, and make sure anywhere your business name is mentioned, the Name, Address, and Phone (“NAP”) are consistent across the board. Any online directories need to be consistent, and there are tools such as Yext that can help push out your company’s information uniformly.
  • SEM (Search Engine Marketing) & Pay Per Click (PPC), Native Advertising, Affiliate Marketing – this is all paid advertising, often using Google Ads (formerly AdWords), social media ads, and other channels. Native advertising can be as simple as an ad that is designed to fit in someone else’s content, on their webpage or social media page, where it looks like a natural (“native”) part of the overall project. An example of this would be an advertorial on the heart health benefits of fish oil on a health magazine website. Affiliate marketing is when you place ads on someone else’s page altogether such as an ad for tires on a website advertising car sales. You can actually sell space on your own website as well and earn some money.
  • Website Design, Development, User Experience – so this is not actually “advertising” as much as it is building a presence online. This ties closely into SEO as search engines pull information from a well-built website to determine when to show your page to someone searching for something in your area of expertise. This is one essential asset any company should have, and a social media profile page won’t cut it. The biggest challenges here are (1) how will you create a great user experience (UX) , (2) who will create the actual website, and (3) who will make updates? The players involved in managing the website should have a basic to intermediate understanding or better of CSS, JavaScript, HTML, Schema Markup, and Google Tag Manager as well as the content management system (CMS) used to run your website (Drupal, WordPress, for example).
  • Analytics – this is also not marketing, but as the saying goes, if you’re not measuring, you can’t improve it. Learning the ins and out of this powerhouse tool will help you get an understanding of how people use your website, what they look for most and least, and help you make assumptions on which areas of your website to fix or enhance. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Having analytics enabled is imperative in a successful marketing plan, whether you use Google Analytics or an alternative such as Kissmetrics, Clicky, or a more comprehensive, all-encompassing tool such as SEMRush or Moz.
  • Email Marketing – while many marketers will say email marketing is dead, there are companies with a core group of users who appreciate email as a communication method over something like instant messaging or a text message. Discount or coupon codes, e-zines (email magazines or newsletters), company updates, appointment reminders, and enhanced features for users (how to use products in a new way) are great messages to send by email.
  • Mobile Marketing – Under the mobile marketing umbrella, you’ll find SMS, MMS, apps, games, and platforms. SMS is short for Short Message Service, such as a text, and MMS is multimedia messaging service sent by text but includes visual or audio content such as a picture, video, music or other audio content sent to a device. Mobile marketing can be customized by demographic and geographic location through geo-marketing tactics such as geo-targeting and geo-fencing. Have you ever driven near a drugstore or fast food where you had one of their mobile apps installed on your phone and then received a message that there was a sale at their store? This is geo-marketing. With geo-targeting, you deliver location-based ads to a smart device when a user has met your specific criteria. You can define your users based on several demographics such as device ID, zip code, city, and IP address. Geo-fencing, however, uses an actual geographic boundary like a virtual fence to define an area, usually by radius, by using either GPS signals (global positioning signals) or RFID (radio frequency identification). You could use this to push a sales notification when a potential client is visiting a competitor’s physical location. If you are only concerned about location, you would use geo-fencing. If you want to refine your customer with more granularity by demographics, you would use geo-targeting.  Please note when using these techniques, you have to be very careful that you are not encroaching on protected data that could offend a potential customer. For instance, you wouldn’t want to sell feminine hygiene products this way when your customers are visiting a gynecologist or urologist (an example of geo-targeting). Nor would you want to push ads for divorce when potential clients drive by a law firm that practices divorce (a YMYL type of business). These tactics would be seen invasive and predatory to many consumers, plus, there are definite guidelines for ethics in marketing based on industry.
  • Content Marketing – blogging, vlogs or online videos housed on your website or on YouTube or Vimeo, Powerpoint presentations, events and webinars, white papers, infographics, case studies, eBooks, newsletters, checklists, statistics, presentation file, or any other type of content that brings leads & traffic to your website is considered content marketing. Content marketing is intermingled with a variety of marketing channels such as social media, email, video, and even SEM as different types of content should be created for different channels. The acronym EAT relies heavily on content marketing as well as SEO as your Expertise, Authority, and Trustworthiness are demonstrated by your content signal to Google that you are the result that best matches the user’s search.

This is the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a good place to start. So where do you find online resources to learn these specific fields? Read my blog on How to Learn Marketing Online.

Career Tip: Build your network

When you enter a new industry, finding mentors and peers to help you build your career and succeed in your position are important. You will see each other often at events and meetings, and you’ll likely run into each other on your way up the marketing career ladder.

Those in marketing tend to be teachers. They naturally help and mentor those who are honest and genuinely interested, but they will avoid people who want only to use them to advance their personal agenda. Don’t be too eager or greedy by trying to be besties with the Chief Marketing Officer of the most popular company. Relationships have to come naturally, and your goal (hopefully) is to build long-term, lasting peer-to-peer or mentee-mentor bond.

It takes time and a commitment to honing your personal skills outside of work to become “a name” in the marketing field. Determine how much time you want to invest in this venture so you can build meaningful relationships. Ask yourself if you want to be a participant, a volunteer, or if you want to work your way to a leadership role in one of the organizations. Make notes of the Who’s Who in your local area so you can know faces and names when people introduce you or if you see them as keynote speakers at a conference. Be careful not to overextend yourself. If you do, you risk being seen in those circles as unreliable.

Here are some of my musts when it comes to professional organizations and networking:

  1. Join the American Marketing Association and become active in your local chapter
  2. Join the professional society within your industry (Legal Marketing Association, Healthcare Marketing Society, etc.)
  3. If you like a specific area of marketing (graphic design, SEO, social media, PPC, public relations, etc), find a local or regional organization that specializes in that area
  4. Check local Meet-ups to see if there is an active membership with ongoing events
  5. Find one or two awesome conferences to attend each year
  6. Read business magazines that are targeted to your area

Finally, be a part of your community. Having been in marketing & public relations for over two decades, I’ve met numerous people by serving on local non-profit boards. Building relationships in these types of organizations go a long way as you give of your time and talents for no other reason than to help. And when you need someone to stand up for you as a reference, these peers will be a tremendous spokesperson to your ethics, integrity and values.